Was Jesus Merely Wrong About Homosexuality?

July 28, 2015

Brandon Ambrosino has discovered a novel way to harmonize Christianity and homosexuality. The typical approach is to register Jesus’ silence on homosexuality and to claim this indicates tacit approval on Jesus’ part. But this is a mistake, according to Ambrosino, who says that Jesus would “almost certainly have held . . . [that] same-sex relations . . . [are] sinful.” Instead, Ambrosino offers Christians the opportunity to accede to the rightness of gay marriage, and all it takes is giving up one of those theologically insignificant doctrines of ours: the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Ambrosino gives us two instances of Jesus being in error. If we accept these, Ambrosino hopes we will also conclude Jesus was wrong about homosexuality. The first is that Jesus did not seem to know who touched the hem of his garment; the second is that Jesus held eschatological beliefs that seem to have been disproven. The former represents a lack of knowledge; the latter represents the possession of a false belief.

What if Jesus didn’t know who touched the hem of his garment?

The first instance — the one in which Jesus questioned who touched him — does not indicate epistemic failure. This is because not knowing something is different from believing a falsehood. Put differently, omniscience and infallibility are not the same — even if Ambrosino is right, this does not mean Jesus is fallible, it only means he is not omniscient. But actually it doesn’t mean either. As a theanthropic person, Jesus has two natures: human and divine. One of the divine characteristics is omniscience, which Jesus, as a divine person, fully possesses. In becoming human, God the Son doesn’t lose his claim on divine features but does gain the ability to restrict their operations. In other words, he possesses the power of intentional self-limitation.

To think otherwise is to deny the very possibility of an incarnation. As a person with two natures, Jesus experiences the communication of attributes. He is divine, which means that even as a human he is worthy of worship. Ordinary humans are not worthy of worship, so it is Jesus’ divine nature that is carrying this feature over. But the communication works in the other direction, too: he is human, which means he is divine yet able to represent humanity as a substitutionary sacrifice. As St. Anselm explained long ago, a purely divine being could not stand for us as our genuine representative. In each case, something true of Jesus-as-human, or Jesus-as-divine, becomes true of the other.

But not all attributes are like this. If they were, it would call into question the very possibility of an incarnation. Consider: Jesus is omnipotent in virtue of being divine, yet he has not allowed this attribute to overwhelm his humanity. His intensely human moments of weakness testify to this, which of course would fail to be praiseworthy were he simply feigning difficulty and all along just effortlessly conquering every obstacle before him. There is thus no complication between Jesus’ omniscience and his lack of knowledge. There is only a complication if we believe the divine attributes must always smother their human counterparts. But Jesus willingly accepts the self-containment of some of his divine attributes — this is the glory of Philippians 2:5-8.

Did Jesus hold eschatological beliefs that were disproven?

The second instance — the one in which Jesus held false eschatological beliefs — would, if true, represent epistemic failure. Ambrosino quotes C. S. Lewis, who calls Matthew 24:34 “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” That verse has Jesus capping a lengthy apocalyptic discourse in this way: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” It’s not hard to see why Lewis would be so disturbed: if Jesus did in fact believe the end of the world would occur within the lifetime of his apostles, then the unavoidable conclusion is that Jesus was wrong. The problem is it’s highly unlikely Jesus thought this.

Eschatological statements, such as this one from Jesus, are notoriously difficult to interpret. They are not impenetrable, but the reality is that since they are projections, rather than descriptions, there is a level of complexity to them that disallows them from being used in the simplistic way that Ambrosino is intending. Ambrosino has engineered his argument to work in this way: if Jesus was wrong about other things, such as eschatology, then he is wrong about homosexuality, too. But the logic of this mode of argumentation requires that the initial datum — that Jesus was wrong about eschatology — be uncontroversial.

The problem is Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, specifically the verse that Lewis finds so troubling, is deeply contested by theologians (consider the multiplicity of eschatological models that exist out there that have a different take on these verses: from partial preterism to historic premillennialism to amillennialism, etc.). There is nothing close to a consensus on this, but Ambrosino would make you think there is unanimity that Jesus was wrong.

Here’s why I don’t think he was. This verse, Matthew 24:34, comes right before another of Jesus’ statements: that no one knows the day or the hour of the second coming (verse 36). Keeping in mind that “day and hour” did not, in a phrase such as this, necessarily refer to twenty-four-hour and sixty minute units of time, respectively, but was another way of saying “no one knows when,” it’s highly unlikely that Jesus is going to make a statement implying definitive knowledge of when right before denying possessing knowledge of when. It would be uncharitable in the extreme to read Jesus as being so thick-headed that he managed to contradict himself within the span of two verses.

Another interpretation, far likelier than Ambrosino’s in my estimation, is that Jesus did not intend to suggest the end of the world would happen immediately after those signs that he delineates. Rather, he intended to communicate to his followers that they are a part of a new eschatological trajectory: the new post-resurrection advent which will culminate in the coming of the Kingdom of God. This does not begin thousands of years from now, he wants to tell them, but it begins shortly after the Son of Man has carried out his work and returns to heaven. His own followers will be a part of the commencement of that age.

Consider: if Jesus wanted his followers to be vigilant and to give their all to proclaiming his gospel, is the right approach to speak of God’s kingdom as though it will materialize thousands of years in the future? There is a didactic element to Jesus framing his statement this way. The gospel writers certainly didn’t seem to see this statement as showcasing a falsehood; that only seems like the “plain reading” to interpreters such as Ambrosino, who have a clear agenda to promote.

The reality is that certain parts of Scripture, most notably the parts having to do with end-time predictions, generate far more controversy than other parts. Ambrosino suggests his interpretation is a fait accompli, but this ignores the hermeneutical difficulties endemic to the apocalyptic literature of the Bible. His argumentative strategy requires that we all agree that Matthew 24:34 is a case of Jesus getting it wrong, but I’m sorry to say that this is by no means established, and in fact there are far better interpretations than Ambrosino’s, none of them tarnishing Jesus with erroneous beliefs.

The difference between being factually wrong and morally right

But let’s grant each and every one of Ambrosino’s assumptions, including his claim that Jesus’ end-times views were factually incorrect. Still, there is a huge conceptual gulf between getting something factually wrong and getting something morally wrong. Producing a failed theory is a favorite pastime of scientists: if a graveyard of hypotheses existed, it would likely be the size of ten solar systems. To make a failed prediction just comes with the territory of not knowing everything there is to know.

But morality is not time-bound in this way. Aristotle, who lived over two millennia ago, is just as likely to get something ethically correct as is a philosopher from our own time. In other words, even granting all of Ambrosino’s tendentious assumptions, it still isn’t clear that Jesus would get anything wrong about ethical matters. If ethical judgment is not burdened by the historical factors that plague ordinary factual predictions, then even granting Ambrosino’s arguments, it’s not certain that Jesus would have made a mistake in his assessment of homosexuality.

While it’s true that cultural identification can sometimes obscure from us ethical realities we would otherwise detect, this does not apply to Jesus, who proved time and again a thoroughgoing willingness to challenge the ethical establishment and to resist ethical conformism. To the Jewish religious powers, Jesus was a theological dissident. This means that just as he challenged rabbinic theologies of marriage, the Sabbath, the afterlife, to name just a few, he could just as easily have challenged the prevailing position on homosexuality. That he didn’t is not an indication of his inability to escape his contextual milieu, but rather evidence of studied solidarity with the prevailing Jewish understanding.

But of course we don’t need to grant any of Ambrosino’s claims, since they’re either facile theological mistakes or highly questionable assumptions. Jesus’ divinity is a non-negotiable. The church has always understood this. To jettison Christ’s divinity — of which omniscience is certainly a part — in order to accommodate a justification for homosexuality is to give up Christianity itself. After all, why should we follow a guy who may have gotten it all wrong?

Berny Belvedere

Berny Belvedere has studied philosophy (Florida International University and University of Florida) and theology (Trinity International University and Knox Theological Seminary), and is a professor of philosophy at Florida International University, Miami Dade College, and St. Thomas University. He has written on ethics, politics, economics, pop culture and more at … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

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We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24